We in the American bicycling community are so fortunate to have Congressman Jim Oberstar as our friend and leader. Elected 36 years ago from northern Minnesota, Congressman Oberstar has indisputably been the most important Member of Congress when it comes to supporting active transportation. Unfortunately (and I write this in the most non-political way possible), he lost his seat in a close election earlier this month. The good news for Jim is that he’ll have more time to bicycle his beloved rail-trails, like the Paul Bunyan Trail near Brainerd. The bad news for all of us is that, without Jim’s leadership, we may see more moves to drastically cut the federal funding programs that have supported new bike facility development over the last 20 years. But rather than dwell on that, let’s pause for a moment on this holiday weekend and consider 10 reasons to give thanks for Jim Oberstar (and please feel free to add your own).
1. He is the legislative father of Safe Routes to School, the important federal program that is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to help more American kids bike and walk to school.
2. He is a fiery orator and communicator on behalf of bicycling and of converting our society to one that burns carbohydrates instead of just hydrocarbons.
3. He is a real bipartisan legislator, who has worked with colleagues from all parties to advance better transportation systems.
4. He truly loves bicycling, as I witnessed (and enjoyed) during a ride (pdf format) with him and 80 other Minnesotans. Jim lit up the ride with his smiles and enthusiasm (and the way he attacked the hills!).
5. He is a big backer of the U.S Bicycle Route System.
6. He was instrumental in creating new federal funding systems in 1990 that now provide federal funds for biking and walking. As a result, we now spend more than a billion dollars a year on these programs.
7. He is as self-deprecating as they come, despite his powerful perches in Washington and back home in Minnesota — a nice quality to see in our elected leaders these days.
8. He averages more than 2,000 miles a year on his bike, despite his hectic schedule.
9. He is tenacious, whether on the legislative front or in getting back on his bike after being hit and seriously injured by an errant driver in 1987.
10. He has indicated that, although he could kick back and enjoy a well-deserved retirement, or become a highly paid lobbyist, he is going to stay active as a citizen and advocate to promote cycling and more livable communities.
You can read more about Congressman Oberstar in an excellent Adventure Cyclist profile (pdf format) from earlier this year — and please add your reasons to give thanks for bicycling’s most influential champion in Congress.
Photo caption: Congressman Oberstar (on the right) riding with Jim Sayer (in the middle) and Gary Sjoquist of QBP on the Paul Bunyan Trail.
JIM SAYER is executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.